Rise of the Molecular Robots - Prof David Leigh

Scientists create world’s first ‘molecular robot’ capable of building molecules

Artist’s impression of the molecular robot manipulating a molecule [Image credit: Stuart Jantzen, www.biocinematics.com]

Salma Kassem and her colleagues in the Leigh group (http://www.catenane.net) have developed the first molecular robot that is able to move a molecule between different activating sites to achieve different outcomes from chemical synthesis. The molecular robot can be programmed to selectively produce, in sequential one-pot operations, any one of four possible products, including compounds that are difficult to makeusing conventional methods. Each molecular robot manipulates a single substrate molecule, but the process is massively paralleled with more than a billion billion (i.e., 1018) molecular robots operated simultaneously by the scientists. Future generations of programmable molecular machines may play significant roles in chemical synthesis and molecular manufacturing in chemical ‘nanofactories’.


The work forms part of a recently awarded £5.3M EPSRC grant on ‘Molecular Robotics’ (collaboration between groups at the University of Manchester, University of Cambridge and University of Bristol): http://gow.epsrc.ac.uk/NGBOViewGrant.aspx?GrantRef=EP/P027067/1


Reference: 'Stereodivergent synthesis with a programmable molecular machine’ Salma Kassem, Alan T. L. Lee, David A. Leigh, Vanesa Marcos, Leoni I. Palmer and Simone Pisano, Nature doi:10.1038/nature23677.

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